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The Skull Beneath The Skin (Cordelia Gray #2)

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  4,648 Ratings  ·  215 Reviews
Fading star Clarissa Lisle plans a spectacular comeback in a private performance of Webster' s bloodcurdling tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi," to be staged in an island castle owned by the eccentric collector Ambrose Gorringe. When she begins to receive poison-pen letters -- bearing death threats couched in Shakespearean quotations -- her husband hires young private detectiv ...more
Unknown Binding
Published November 5th 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1982)
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I had never read anything by PD James, but she's been on my shortlist of authors-to-read for a while now. I think she first came onto my radar when I heard about her recent mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley (which did not particularly interest me itself, since not even a murder mystery could make me give a crap about the Bennett sisters), but she's been a prolific detective author for decades. This one, published in 1982, is obviously not one of her newer mysteries, but it caught my eye when I w ...more
mark monday
Sep 10, 2011 mark monday rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: murdertime
the novel appears to be PD James looking back at agatha christie by taking the basics of the classic murder mystery (an enclosed and gothic setting, a finite number of suspects, stylized characters)...and then updating it with all of the intricate details, narrative complexity, and emotionally nuanced characterizations of a later-period psychological thriller. the scene in question is wonderful - per the book jacket, a "fairy-tale castle on the sunlit island of Courcy". the often self-doubting b ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Yngvild rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
The Skull Beneath the Skin looks back to the days when readers expected large dollops of philosophy and literary references along with their stories. This P D James novel contains references to John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (the play within a play), Nietzsche, Donne, Shakespeare, William Morris, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, E M Forster, Malory, Voltaire, Austen and Rattigan amongst others.
Bosola: Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water moistens the earth,
But bloo
May 22, 2012 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Private investigator Cordelia Gray has been hired by Sir George Ralston to accompany his wife, Clarissa, to Courcy Island, where Clarissa is to star in a play. Cordelia’s mission is to keep the persistent poison pen letters away from Clarissa. They’ve already caused one meltdown on stage and Sir George doesn’t want another. Protecting Clarissa from the letters is one thing, but protecting her from death is something else. When Clarissa is discovered murdered prior to the performance, Cordelia’s ...more
Mar 20, 2009 Katharine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
The Skull Beneath the Skin is the last PD James I'm going to read for a while. I will say that this was a lot more fun to read than The Black Tower. I found Cordelia Gray to be a more sympathetic detective character than Dalgleish, and the plot followed a little more closely in the style of a classic English house-party murder.

The downfall of this one is that the theatrical setting is such a cliché, with the self-absorbed diva and her circle of followers – even to the mysterious and devoted f
Dec 29, 2015 Amiad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
ספר מתח בריטי. כמה אנשים נמצאים בטירה באי ואחד מהם נרצח וכו׳.
סך הכול רענון מספרי המתח המודרניים.
Johanna Lilas
Jun 05, 2016 Johanna Lilas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Cordélia est une détective privée anglaise. Elle a pour habitude de retrouver les animaux de compagnie perdus. La jeune femme est alors sollicitée par Sir George pour protéger sa femme Clarissa. En effet, la comédienne reçoit des lettres de menaces de mort. L'objectif est de mettre en péril sa carrière. Clarissa est invitée chez Ambrose, propriétaire d'un château victorien sur l'île de Courcy, pour faire une représentation afin de relancer sa carrière. A cette occasion, Cordélia doit intercepter ...more
I enjoyed reading this (on a plane ride) but was irked by two things: 1.) Cordelia was rather passive in her role as detective & didn't stand up for herself as much as I would have presumed she would & 2.) The reveal of 'whodunit' was anti-climatic to me. More of a, "Oh...that's it? That's all?"
Nov 13, 2007 Margie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, series, u-k
A bit of a far cry from her later books. The structure is there, but she makes some major leaps without bringing the reader along. Having read mostly her later books, this makes a nice contrast to see how she's grown as a writer.
Gillian Kevern
Feb 20, 2016 Gillian Kevern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, 1980s
I had no idea I'd read so much P.D. James. I could only remember reading two of her books, but I remembered the first half of this book so strongly that I'm starting to wonder if having these books on my shelf for so long meant that I have somehow absorbed the contents of her novels through osmosis.

I really like Cordelia, so much so that I really want a happy ending for her. It's probably more realistic that despite her best efforts, her intelligence and her energy, she never gets the success s
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

La calavera bajo la piel de P.D James. El recuerdo a una gran dama del crimen

El pasado 27 de noviembre del 2014 nos dejó Phyllis Dorothy James, mundialmente conocida por P.D. James. La británica, nacida en Oxford en 1920, fue uno de los mejores exponentes del género policíaco. En casos como este, con una dilatada carrera por detrás, con una cantidad razonable de títulos entre los que escoger, al lector que no conoce al autor siempre se le plan
Mar 19, 2016 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-crime
I won't lie, this book irritated me. In it, Cordelia Gray is asked to investigate who is making threats to kill a famous (well B-list famous) actress. We travel to an island with Gray and said actress, watch said actress give the remaining characters in the book enough reason to kill her (if mysteries to be believed), and die. Gray then does her best to work out whodunnit.

The book irritated me no end. In and of itself it wasn't bad. It was just too damn similar to the only other Gray book out th
Sep 14, 2011 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
It's hard to know precisely how to grade a novel such as The Skull Beneath The Skin. James takes much of what she learned from composing twenty years of crime fiction and transplants these lessons onto Cordelia Gray, who is simply not as robust a creation as Adam Dalgliesh.

What we get is a largely satisfactory composition that never quite gels, because Cordelia feels like more of a bystander than an active participant in the novel; she is on an island when bad things happen on that island, and
Dec 30, 2012 Cat. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
As usual, there is a lot going on in this book besides the mystery itself. James is wonderful at drawing pictures with words, pictures that include the scenery and personality of not only people but inanimate objects.

Cordelia Gray has been hired as a bodyguard/personal assistant for a fading stage actress who has been receiving vaguely threatening letters for some time. She is due to perform in a private performance at the home of a friend of hers on an island off the coast of England. Essential
The second of the Cordelia Gray series by P D James, wherein Adam Dalgleish, her famous Inspector has only a passing mention. I liked the initial 3/4ths of the book – it was a very cozy read – a fading theatre artist who is giving a private performance at a remote island castle belonging to her friend. She is besieged by poisonous hate mails and is fearing her life, though no one believes that her life is in danger. Her current husband engages Cordelia Gray to be constantly with her and filter a ...more
This was a reread of a novel I didn't have any memories of. Cordelia is a wonderful character to walk along side as she tries to make sense of this very messy situation. An almost close off mystery, it takes place on an island, where everyone plays false and lies a little or a lot. The creepy factor is high but shown in a matter of fact way. That adds to the creepy factor.

P.D. James makes the reader care about Cordelia and her motives to solve this mess. The resolution is a bit melodramatic. St
Dec 13, 2015 Joyce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Inspired by the other Cordelia Grey mystery I listened to on tape, I checked out another. Cordelia came through with her calm, compentent and matter of fact approach to detection, permitting herself only a few moments of righteous anger when appropriate. The somewhat dissolute characters (both villains and regulars) go so far as to call her a prig. The somewhat curmudgeonly compentent police go so far as to order her out of the way. She questions her motives and wonders what to do, but shhe is d ...more
The second book by PD James featuring private detective Cordelia Gray. I liked this one a lot less than the previous book, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This one sees Cordelia invited to a private island to act as bodyguard to a highly strung actress. The actress is due to perform at a private theatre on the island, owned by a wealthy friend of hers. She has been receiving threatening notes and fears for her life. Cordelia has to travel with her and figure out which of the small group of associ ...more
Luke Paulsen
If you've read any of P.D. James's other detective novels, you'll know roughly to expect from The Skull Beneath the Skin. More than almost any of the others, this book takes James's formulaic approach-- isolated setting, personal angst, literary pretensions, gritty realism, scandalous revelations, and a dash of physical danger-- and runs with it unabashedly. The murder mystery is capably plotted and more believable than some; the characters' psyches and relationships are suitably dark and twiste ...more
Ken Bickley
Feb 07, 2015 Ken Bickley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I seldom read two books back-to-back by the same author, but P. D. James is such a pleasure to read and since this second of her two Cordelia Gray mysteries was on hand, I went ahead with it. In this story, Cordelia, a private investigator, is asked to act as bodyguard for actress Clarissa Lisle by the husband of the actress. Someone is sending threatening notes to Clarissa, perhaps just to destroy her nerves before a stage performance. Or perhaps it's more serious. As always, the writing is ele ...more
Oct 28, 2014 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very compulsive read - at the end, the last 10th of the book. The rest was good and compelling but not compulsive.
from the jacket: Actress Clarissa Lisle was famous for her ravishing beauty - and her unscrupulous manipulations. Now o the death-shrouded island of Courcy, her schemes win her a starring role in a nightmare in which she can trust no one - not her deceived husband; her dangerously insecure stepson; her ominously genial host; her dependent, desperate cousin; or her cruelly
Patricia Godfrey
Jan 24, 2014 Patricia Godfrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love pd james, and two years ago went to hear her speak about Death Comes to Pemberley, her imagined idea of life at the big house after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. And then I got a look at the television adaptation of that book and my. My admiration for the 93 year old author grew. Whoever made that adaptation threw money and a fabulous cast at it.

I have a first American edition of The Skull Beneath the Skin, found at a library book sale, and had it up on the old and fabu
Jul 12, 2015 TheRealMelbelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This reviewer writes it best:
"The Skull Beneath the Skin looks back to the days when readers expected large dollops of philosophy and literary references along with their stories. This P D James novel contains references to John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (the play within a play), Nietzsche, Donne, Shakespeare, William Morris, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, E M Forster, Malory, Voltaire, Austen and Rattigan amongst others.
Bosola: Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water
Apr 07, 2016 Lizzy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mystery, brit-lit
AD, Grey is not. A very atmospheric tale with a gothic feel. Once again, a secluded island is the setting. There is a murder obviously, and Cordelia solves it. Of course she gets into trouble first. I see her better as the finder of lost pets.
Sharon Terry
Jan 09, 2015 Sharon Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this novel hard going at first, as I was used to the far more fast-paced approach of modern crime writers; however, it did eventually become quite absorbing. PD James seems to be a believer in "plot is character", because you tend to rifle through the suspects as you go, eliminating this one and that one on the basis of character, rather than alibi, means, motive, etc. It is basically a "cosy" - not too awfully gruesome, just a touch; a bunch of people in an enclosed environment; an unpl ...more
Sunil Kolangara
Being a PDJ book, expectations are very high; Cordeilia Grey is a spunky heroine but does not have too much canvas to exhibit "ze grey cells". The book while tightly knit in most places, loosens up in the end; it is not a cleanly plotted ending and that is sad because by and large the theme and characters are interestingly different and expectations run high on the climax. The landscape descriptions are rich and capture the emotional intensity of the plot. The usual PDJ stress on the human face ...more
May 03, 2014 Helen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked Cordelia Gray when I met her 40 years ago in "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman." And I continued to like her today as I met her again in "The Skull Beneath the Skin (love my library's $1 books)." James is an excellent writer, conveying her characters and their surroundings in evocative ways without extraneous adjectives cluttering the story (to my way of thinking, the more adjectives used to convey a mood, the less skilled the storyteller). The construction of the story, 10 people stuck tog ...more
PD James thriller with Greta Scacchi and John Moffatt.

An magnificent plot, as usual, by Dame James.
Solid, creepy mystery, written with consistently dry humo(u)r. I quite liked it.
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P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of over twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of th
More about P.D. James...

Other Books in the Series

Cordelia Gray (2 books)
  • An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Cordelia Gray, #1)

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